Woodcarving, wood lots, and women
(When one travels to the tourist town of Banaue in Ifugao, the rice terraces are not the only ones you can’t help notice.
Small shops along the road stand side by side each other displaying a variety of woodcarvings from the famed “bululs” (rice gods) to home decors, tissue holders, and souvenirs.
Big hunter statues and furniture sets were often the centerpieces until recently when these were replaced by small items carved to the minutest detail of native houses, good luck charms, and novelty items that became popular.
Woodcarving in the province of Ifugao can be traced back to the pre-Spanish period. The practice of the craft can also be associated to the existence of the old rice terraces as evidenced by the “bululs” carved as protectors of these and an important part of the rituals in the rice cycle of the Ifugao people.
After the Second World War, there was a boom in the tourism industry in the town of Banaue. Along with it, woodcarving became an additional income generating activity for most families.
“Traditionall, Ifugaos have limited sources of income. Since rice production here is only once a year, families could not be sustained by just relying on rice production, ” said Banaue Municipal Assessor Peter Udan.
Women in the woodcarving industry are usually in charge of the finishing touches on the wood products but not until recently when they started to get involved by carving their own items.
Trinkets, key chains, and earrings are now some of the recent souvenir items that woodcarvers in Banaue produce.
These maybe smaller than the average woodworks but their details take as much hard work and patience to create.
“What’s unique to women woodcarvers is their patience to carve small items as compared to the men who prefer to carve the larger pieces” said Maribel Dango, president of the Banaue Women Woodcarvers Organization.
The organization was started in 2016 with a woodcarving exhibit organized by the local government unit.
With 16 members now from barangays Bocos and Viewpoint, the organization continues to showcase their skills and works during festivals like the Imbayah and the Gotad ad Ifugao.
“The reason we organized an exhibit for them was to adjust the price from Php10 per item to at least Php35 ,” said Udan.
Unlike commercialized products produced in bulk using machines, the items carved by the women are handmade. Sometimes, these items are made while the women are taking care of the children and household chores.
Sustaining the family
Income sources for the typical Ifugao family is usually limited to the father going out to the fields and whose produce is sold for cash..
Now, “woodcarving helps a lot especially when it comes to our finance” said Darcy Banghuyao, a member of the Banaue Women Woodcarver Organization.
Although the women woodcarvers sell smaller pieces, Udan said they can earn money equal to the value of the larger items.
Preserving the natural forests
Usually, when one talks about the woodcarving industry, one cannot avoid to tackle issues of deforestation especially in areas with large forest covers.
In numerous studies, the growth of the woodcarving industry is considered a contributory factor to the declining of forests.
The government also issued memorandums and department orders to ban the cutting of trees.
Contrary to the impression that woodcarving is a dangerous industry particularly to Ifugao forests, Udan explained that the Ifugaos, long before the laws and regulations were put in place, knew how to take care of their woodlots.
“Woodcarving is an industry that knows how to preserve natural forests,” he said.
Before woodcarving became a source of income, most farming families clear entire mountains to plant food crops as an alternative livelihood to rice production.
The development of the woodcarving as a source of income in the municipality helped stop this slash-and-burn agriculture.
“Families will not clear mountains to plant sweet potatoes anymore because by carving two to five trees within a certain period, they can already afford their basic needs while having the forest preserved,” Udan explained.
He said with the women woodcarvers, the raw resources are maximized into coming up with marketable products from the trunk, branches up until the pine needles.
Scrap wood from making the large items can also be turned into smaller souvenir pieces.
Expanding the market
Through exhibits in different events and festivals, the Banaue women are now able to get orders inside and outside the country.
Udan said, he sees a strong potential in the international market for their products.
“It’s good that the Duterte administration is encouraging enterpreneurship,” he said.
Through the right kind of enterpreneurship and strong government support, Udan envisions the wood carvers as owners of an organization that helps give an adequate and reliable source of income to secure a better life for their families.**JDP/JJPM-PIA CAR